Introduction to Scratch Scratch logo

  • MentalArcade Scratch Page
    The Scratch program, created by MIT's Lifelong Kindergarten group, offers a practical way to introduce programming to kids and classrooms. Scratch taps into student interests by easily animating sprites or their friends' photos to the music that they love. There's even a built-in module to control LEGO robots! We'll explore some of the sample games included with the Scratch download. Scratch is so popular worldwide that there are nearly 2 million Scratch projects that kids and teachers have uploaded to the MIT site.
  • Download and play Guardian, a Scratch video game
    You can review and change the code to Guardian to see how a highly playable game is programmed and how the graphics are used to good effect. Clear instructions and feedback are a winning part of this game!

Introduction to eToys eToys logo

  • eToys is closely related to Scratch
    Download eToys from this Squeakland home page. eToys is part of the Squeak programming and development environment (Scratch is built on top of Squeak, by the way). The eToys/Squeak environment is the brainchild of legendary computer scientist Alan Kay, whose team at Xerox developed the modern computer interface. He developed eToys/Squeak as a way to empower children to learn to build with technology. eToys/Squeak is included with each of the millions of XO computers used by kids in developing countries around the world.
  • A Simple Lunar Lander Game (download or play in browser)
    The entire program that controls the game is shown on the game screen. The graphics can be drawn on the background and saved as sprites or objects for the game to control.
  • Rich eToys Community Site REALLY!
    Developed partly by the University of Illinois at Urbana, this site has eToys projects organized in familiar curricular terms. It offers a fine example of how eToys can be integrated into the fabric of an educational community.
  • Page of Student-Created eToys Games (for OLPC XO)
    The Software Architecture Group from the Hasso Plattner Institute have created and posted several high-quality games for eToys. You can download any game and play it in eToys or you can download and entire eToys package that includes all the games already installed.

Introduction to NetLogo NetLogo logo

Google's App Inventor for Android (click for MentalArcade App Inventor page)

  • The recently-released App Inventor system is of special interest to middle, high school, and college classes and students because:
    1. It is built upon the tile-based Scratch programming system (licensed from MIT)
    2. It can create a simple game or other app for Android phones, the kind of small, mobile game device that many kids love.
    3. Games and apps created with App Inventor can be easily uploaded the the Google app store to share or sell.
    4. App Inventor includes a software-based Android phone emulator so those without an Android phone can also participate (though it isn't as much fun).
    5. notes on future development: While the product is new, it's probably safe to assume that App Inventor will be enhanced to develop apps for Android tablet computers. It's also unlikely that a similar product will be released soon for Apple's iPhone because of the restrictions Apple places on how apps are shared and on what they can do on your device. So, for better or worse, it seems like programming games or apps for Android will become more common in schools.

Other Game Development Systems for Kids

  • The Inform 7 Text-Game Engine may be the easiest beginner system
    Inform 7 supports the creation of interactive fiction and text-based "adventure" games like Zork. The system includes great tutorials and examples within the game editor, and a programming language is included that is tailored to text-based gaming. Completed games may be placed in a Webpage within which the game may be disseminated and played. This open-source project is available for Mac, Windows, and Linux.
  • Alice
    is a 3D programming and animation environment developed at Carnegie Mellon to introduce middle and high school students to programming. It is even used as an introduction to object-oriented programming at the college level (for example, Univ. of Alabama computer science). There are separate versions of Alice for middle school and high school, and the software runs on Windows and Mac OS X. The Web-embedded sharing may not work, so sharing of the programs may be difficult.
  • Phun and Algodoo Mechanical Simulators
    Loads of fun creating animated, mobile constructions. Old versions of Phun are still free, and the commercial Algodoo program is focused on the school market.
  • Agentsheets 3 from Univ. of Colorado, Boulder
    Agentsheets is a new approach to game design that has been found successful with ages 11-21 and has been adopted by the Girlstart Summer Camp. Available for Windows and Mac for about $50 per student (10-day free trial). Teacher materials available at no additional cost. Two notable differences in this program is that it offers a scaleable game design built on an "agent-based" modeling system and it uses a "conversational programming" control model. Finished games may be exported and shared as Java applets.
  • Sandbox 3D Game Maker from Platinum Arts
    Sandbox is ideal for making 3D quest games in which you traverse a region encountering characters who can give you tasks and hints, collect objects, and overcome obstacles to reach a goal. It contains a simple terrain and object editor and a way to enter dialog and other game elements.
  • Game Maker is an easy-to-learn 2D game design and programming environment. Game Maker is available for Windows in both a free "lite" version and a $28 "pro" version (Mac only in $20 pro). The primary difference between the two is that the free version has a simplified "drag-and-drop" programming interface, while the pro version has an actual programming language to give the designer more control. The Website has a well-used sharing system to publish student games and to see and learn from what others have done. (Used in State College Middle School program)

Academic References for Gaming in Education


We're confronted by insurmountable opportunity!
-- Pogo (Walt Kelly)

About this Workshop

Description: Many schools would like to offer a beginning game design course, and many would like to revitalize their technology or programming curriculum. This session will present three systems that can be used to design and program computer games from grades 6 through 12.

In the morning, participants will receive hands-on experience with simple games in Scratch, eToys, and NetLogo HUB. In the afternoon, they will each design and program a game using the software of their choice. To keep the session practical, they will most likely modify an existing game according to their comfort level and to guarantee success.

Each system has its own strengths and weaknesses: Scratch has difficulty in presenting scores and directions, eToys has a non-standard interface, and NetLogo HUB supports networked games. All three are suitable for teaching both basic game design, simple programming, and can be used to create educational games. Each participant will take home their game and those of other participants that they like.


  • 5 min - introduction to game design and programming
  • 45 min - hands-on example: building movement, sound, and interaction into a game with Scratch
  • 15 min - break
  • 45 min - hands-on example: integrating text and scorekeeping/display with eToys
  • 15 min - break
  • 45 min - example: hands-on adding multi-user network play to a health education game in NetLogo HUB
  • 15 min - principles of game design
  • 2.5 hr - individual game design hands-on workshop (with individual assistance)
  • 15 min - sharing of game successes, Q & A, evaluation

portrait of avatar
"Wayne Warrigal," my Second Life avatar ~photo by sgarrigan


Pac Man image
~photo by brokenarts

Boys Playing Video Game
~photo by anitapatterson

gobstopper robot
~photo by krazydad / jbum